Rhoda Derry was an unfortunate woman whose cruel treatment at Alms Houses back in the 1800s led to great changes in the Illinois Mental Health Community.

Rhoda Derry is an unfortunate girl who went from a sweet and innocent teenager in love to a woman gone mad to the point she scratched out her own eyes.

The heartbreaking story of Ms. Derry elicited worldwide sympathies when it was retold in the form of documentaries and television shows like The Mysterious Rhoda Derry released in 2013.

Her story played a key role in changing the medical treatment of mental patients in the United States. So, who was she and what happened to her?


Rhoda Derry, a native of Adams County, Illinois, was just a simple and innocent girl who was born on 10 October 1834.

Her pictures are not clear on social media as of now.

Further, Derry fell in love with a farm boy named Charles Phenix during her teenage years. However, her family’s name was associated with witchcraft and people usually tended to stay away from them.

There were strong rumors that Derry’s grandmother was a witch. This type of information was quite a big deal back in the day.

Thus, her mother, Rachel decided to start a new life away from her mother (Derry’s grandmother) and moved to a new location. However, this instilled a deep fear of witches in Ms. Derry’s heart.

Her boyfriend, Charles, wanted to marry her. But, Charles’s mother, Nancy, was against this union due to her association with witchcraft.

Nancy confronted her and threatened to put a hex on her if she did not leave her son. As per the article by indiegogo.com, this was the beginning of her spiral into madness.

Derry’s fear of witches eventually led her to hear voices. She started having visions of Nancy haunting her house and often claimed she could see Old Scratch, the devil.


As Rhoda Derry spiraled into madness, her family sent her to the Jacksonville Mental Hospital.

The mental hospital deemed her incurable and sent her home again. At this point, Derry’s parents were unable to take care of her and thus sent her to an Alms House in Adams County.

Alms Houses were also called poorhouses at the beginning of the twentieth century that took in destitute and mental patients ousted by mental hospitals.

However, Ms. Derry’s mental condition further derailed at the Alms House. She turned violent and became a danger to herself and other patients as well.

She claimed she saw Old Scratch and scratched out her own eyes to stop the vision. The staff then put her in a box covered with a canvas tarp where she was confined for 40 years.

Her legs were atrophied due to lack of exercise and she walked with her hands when she was released from the box.

She found solace after Dr. George Zeller opened a hospital for the Incurable Insane in 1904. He treated patients with kindness and brought Derry to his hospital.

She spent her final days under Zeller’s care and passed away on October 9, 1906, at age 71.

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